Some friends and I were recently discussing how, although St. Peter’s Basilica and The Vatican are beautiful structures, the amount of ornamentation in each seems out of place for a religion focused on humility and helping the poor. The first time I attended a Mass at St. Peter’s, I couldn’t help but wonder if some amount of world hunger could be alleviated by selling all of the jewels the church contained. That may have been my young, idealistic mind at work, but even today it seems hard to reconcile with all of the wealth that can be found in some (but not all) Catholic churches.
That is why today’s gospel caught my attention. It’s not that you shouldn’t have a beautiful structure in which to praise God; it’s that you don’t need excessive ornamentation to show God that you care.
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here– the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Then they asked him, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”
Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain–and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot–and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
“Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate, make an effort to settle the matter on the way; otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison. I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
I have so many drafts on my WordPress site, I’m surprised it doesn’t crash. How many times can I start a post only to get turned in another direction and leave it unfinished? The answer, apparently, is quite often.
Today, then, for the sake of actually posting something, I’m not going to attempt to write about my visit to the cathedral and my moments of reflection. Instead, I’m going to turn it over to Bishop Robert Barron, one of my spiritual advisers (although he doesn’t know it). Bishop Barron offers a daily gospel reflection. It pops into my email around 3:30 every morning, and I try to make it the first item I read (around 5:30 or 6). His words explain where Jesus was coming from and where we should be going.
So without further ado, here is Bishop Barron’s gospel reflection for today:
Friends, in today’s Gospel we meet a prudent steward who serves his master wisely. I would like to say something about prudence and wisdom. In the Middle Ages, prudence was called “the queen of the virtues,” because it was the virtue that enabled one to do the right thing in a particular situation.
Prudence is a feel for the moral situation, something like the feel that a quarterback has for the playing field. Justice is a wonderful virtue, but without prudence, it is blind and finally useless. One can be as just as possible, but without a feel for the present situation, his justice will do him no good.
Wisdom, unlike prudence, is a sense of the big picture. It is the view from the hilltop. Most of us look at our lives from the standpoint of our own self-interest. But wisdom is the capacity to survey reality from the vantage point of God. Without wisdom, even the most prudent judgment will be erroneous, short-sighted, inadequate.
The combination, therefore, of prudence and wisdom is especially powerful. Someone who is both wise and prudent will have both a sense of the bigger picture and a feel for the particular situation.
At any rate, how long have I been in this Church and only today do I read the gospel and find that Jesus had two apostles named Judas? Can you imagine being the other Judas? “Oh, no, I’m not the one who took the coins. I’m the good Judas.” You might have a hard time shaking off the perceived reputation of being a traitor.
Today’s gospel tells the story of how Jesus came down from prayer and named the twelve. I would love to know how each of them made the cut. Were there several rounds, like a draft? Were some of the also-ran disciples annoyed? “That Simon Peter is such a kiss-up. He gets picked for everything.” Or perhaps, “I think that Judas Iscariot is a bad choice. I never trusted him.”
Well, everything works out for a reason, including everything related to the story of Jesus.
I look forward all year to a few of my favorite gospel passages. Imagine my joy this past Sunday when the story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary was featured.
Modern interpretation: Jesus goes to visit sisters Martha and Mary (Lazarus is their brother), and Martha is slaving over a hot kettle while Mary is sitting cross-legged listening to Jesus just like a little kid at story time. Martha is perturbed. “Jesus,” she basically whines, “look at me working so hard to make you a wonderful meal. Tell my lazy sister Mary to get up and help me!”
Jesus, not one to coddle complainers, tells her very nicely, “Thank you for your hospitality, Martha, but you’re always worked up about something, while your sister is calmly learning from me.”
As a true Italian-American, I always imagine Martha, short and stocky with cherubic cheeks, standing in front of a cauldron of boiling hot water as she stirs limp spaghetti strands. Never mind that pasta would not have been on the menu; it helps me to better understand the scripture if I can picture a little old Italian lady worrying more about spaghetti and meatballs than what the guest has come to share.
Mary, of course, is the thinner, more classically beautiful sister, often dismissed as lazy or simple-minded but really she is just totally in tune with her spirituality. She is soaking up her time with the Lord and enjoying what he has to say. That doesn’t make Martha a bad person. If she didn’t stir the sauce and knead the dough, who would feed this man? It’s just that Mary has the opportunity to take full advantage of why Jesus is there: not necessarily to eat but rather to reveal his wisdom.
Martha could have been paying attention to Jesus while she was preparing the meal, just like I could be strengthening myself spiritually while I’m doing laundry or making dinner for my family. Why does it often seem easier to take the woe-is-me attitude? In all honesty, no one really cares. You’re cooking for Jesus? That’s fantastic! You should be so proud. You’re doing 11 loads of laundry? You’re so fortunate to have a family! Sadly, it’s hard to think of your good fortune when you’re busy feeling sorry for yourself.
Martha’s sister Mary doesn’t feel sorry for herself — or for Martha, for that matter. Jesus isn’t throwing Martha a pity party either. As he tells her, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Yesterday’s gospel featured yet another Mary; this time it’s Mary Magdalene. News flash for Catholics who have been out of the loop for some time: Mary Magdalene is no longer considered to have been a prostitute. Apparently, that was a story grown out of the preaching of a long-ago pope. In fact, Mary Magdalene is right up there with all of the apostles.
She is the one present at the resurrection of Jesus. As one of his most ardent disciples, Mary Magdalene rushes to the tomb to find the stone has been rolled away. And what transpires next is nothing short of awe-inspiring:
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-bo’ni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Mag’dalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
As magnificent as this story is, we are left with questions, the most obvious being: Since Mary Magdalene was so important to Jesus and followed him so closely, why isn’t she traditionally considered among the apostles? Why doesn’t she have the same clout as, say, Peter? (And, hello? Peter denied Jesus 3 times the night before he died. You don’t hear of Mary doing that.)
My only guess is that, as much as early Christians embraced the teachings of Jesus, they were either unable or unwilling to give equal billing to a woman. We don’t hear about Mary going out and proclaiming the gospel after Jesus’ death and resurrection; yet, she is now getting more and more attention as someone who helped found the early Church.
As a notoriously old-fashioned Catholic, I’m hesitant to rework the history of the Church; however, as a fellow female, I like the idea of Mary Magdalene being right up there with Peter, James, Timothy and the rest. (We will save the discussion of whether this means women should be priests for another time.) At the same time, I rather enjoy the idea of women being the unsung heroes in the Bible. It may seem like men are doing all the work, but in the background are women carrying a lot of the heavy lifting.
Here’s to the Marys of the Bible for carrying the faith. And let’s not forget the Marthas, who are always making sure that no one preaches on an empty stomach.
Instead of the intended promise (to myself, at least) of posting every day, I’m cutting myself (and, thus, the reader) some slack and writing a weekly update. I may throw in an extra post now and then for special occasions.
Without further ado, here is the first installment of the week in review and a glimpse of the week ahead.
We came back from an amazing vacation at the Jersey Shore last Saturday, all rested and relaxed–so relaxed, apparently, that all 5 of us were nodding off during Sunday’s 8 AM Latin Mass. Now, it can be especially easy to drift asleep during the Latin Rite because the Mass moves in a melodic pattern of words from a “dead” language. If you’ve been sunning yourself and stuffing your face for the past seven days, it’s even easier.
We were in various stages of semi-consciousness, when the priest suddenly (or maybe it just seemed suddenly) began belting out a fire-and-brimstone homily. The homily, by the way, is always in English at the Latin Mass (thank goodness). The priest was probably about halfway through his sermon when his voiced raised to a dramatic pitch, and he began to remind us what being Catholic should be all about.
It certainly felt like the priest was doing this for our benefit — wake up, sleeping sinners! — but it’s more likely that he was just trying to get his point across. His stern admonitions certainly set the tone for the rest of the week.
This leads me to a confession: I don’t physically go to Mass every single day. I had every intention of doing so. Sometimes, though, your circumstances just won’t allow it, so you look for alternatives. Two of the easiest for me have been 1.) listening to morning Mass on my way to work, courtesy of EWTN radio on Sirius XM, and 2.) reading the scriptures for the day via Bishop Robert Barron. While neither of these offers the ultimate benefit of receiving the Eucharist, I can at least have some daily time with God and scripture.
With that in mind, I listened to Mass on my way to work last Monday. On Tuesday, I visited the Poor Clares Monastery in Cleveland for Eucharistic Adoration and a special treat: the chance to reconnect with a friend from grade school. Not high school or college. Grade school. As in, we lost touch after 8th grade. There were a lot of years to catch up on, and we probably made it through about half of them over lunch. Before that, we had an opportunity to visit the beautiful little chapel. It was a lovely day.
Wednesday brought another day of Mass on the road, while Thursday and Friday led me to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where I lit candles in front of St. Teresa of Calcutta (for the ability to unselfishly help others) and St. Anthony (praying in advance to help me find things I’ll lose in the future).
Yesterday, the gospel was about the Good Samaritan. I could dive into political waters at this point, discussing what is and isn’t our obligation as Good Samaritans, but let’s leave it here: Any time there is an opportunity to help someone in need, we should take it. The gesture can be as small as holding the door open for someone or as large as donating a kidney to a stranger. The Good Samaritan doesn’t stop to think about what the consequences might be for him/her; the focus is always on how to help the other person.
The most important part about being a Good Samaritan is taking action, not just thinking about how important it is to treat others with kindness. So this week, the emphasis for me is on really helping others rather than pointing out the inaction of others. I’m also going to take a shot at helping others (especially my family members) without complaining. Wish me luck.
First, a confession. Every single time I go to church, I count the number of “minorities” in the space. I am always disappointed that the majority of attendees are white; sometimes, they are all white. I grew up in a diverse community, but I didn’t know a single black person who attended a Catholic church. When the Hispanic Catholic church in town was asked to merge with our Italian-American parish, it at first caused quite a stir. Why are we not integrated in our faith, I keep asking myself.
One day on NPR, I heard a deacon speak. His name is Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers. He is black and he wrote a book about Fr. Augustine Tolton, a former slave who became the first black priest in the United States. Why hadn’t I heard of either of these men before? Now that I finally had, I couldn’t stop thinking about either of them and their challenges within the Church.
Imagine my surprise and joy this morning when I read that Pope Francis is advancing Fr. Tolton for sainthood. From the article:
Despite rampant racism and discrimination, he became one of the city’s most popular pastors, attracting members of both white and black Catholic communities. He spearheaded the building of St. Monica Church for black Catholics and worked tirelessly for his congregation in Chicago, even to the point of exhaustion. On July 9, 1897, he died of heatstroke on a Chicago street at the age of 43.
He was known for persevering against all odds in pursuit of his calling and quietly devoted himself to his people, despite great difficulties and setbacks.
Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
You can read more about Fr. Tolton in the article and in the deacon’s book. God bless Fr. Tolton, hopefully soon to be St. Tolton!
While I did not attend Mass in a church today (listened to it on the radio), I fondly recalled my wedding Mass 20 years ago on this date. It was a windy, overcast day; my father had accidentally dropped my wedding gown on the floor; and my mother was recovering from the removal of some sort of killer corn that clearly was more painful than anything ever experienced by another human being. Still, nothing could cloud the beauty of my wedding day.
To be honest, my parents were nervous, although I don’t understand why. By the time I got married I was 34, so you think they’d have been ready to push me up the aisle. But that’s how my family rolls. And so they had to be forgiven for their clumsy hands and corn complaints. As I recall, absolutely everything else about that day was perfect.
I wish I could remember the words Monsignor Ashton said during his homily. It’s a shame that I don’t, but I do remember kneeling at the foot of Mary’s statue while the organist sang “Ave Maria,” and I remember that our communion song was “One Bread, One Body.” I distinctly remember telling my bridesmaids that they could cut the long black dresses I’d asked them to wear so they could reuse them — a huge lie told by many a bride and one that I had sworn I’d never tell. Getting married makes you do crazy things.
It has been a wild 20 years, and I can honestly say I haven’t been bored for a minute. It’s because of my husband that I’ve chosen to reconsider my faith and what it means to me, and because of him that I’ve gone back to Mass on a regular basis. I’ve also lost the “Catholic guilt” that I carried around for a few decades, while increasing my appreciation of what it means to be a Catholic. At the same time, every Mass I attend or listen to on the radio makes me think about the faults of the Church, especially of the abuse that went on (and possibly still goes on).
If I had the short-sighted faith I once I had, I would have left the Church for good in 2002. Even now, it’s hard to look at a priest and not wonder if he was hurting others. What has made me go on is realizing that the Church is really God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They put mortals in charge of it, and mortals have a tendency to screw up. It’s unfortunate, especially when the problems are so severe and so hurtful to many.
It’s very flawed. And so is marriage, to be honest. So is just about any situation you encounter with another human being. You get angry, become self-involved, hurt someone else, let others hurt you. It’s messy. We don’t expect that kind of a mess when it comes to the Church. Then again, I wasn’t expecting some of the messy moments during my marriage.
If you’re lucky, you learn from the mistakes and move on. That’s what my husband and I have done. It’s what the Church is trying to do, but it’s hard when new stories emerge on a fairly consistent basis. I feel like I got a do-over more than once in my marriage, and it helped a lot. I demand a do-over for the Church. It’s the only chance of saving the relationship.
It is a beautiful sunny day in Cleveland, and the perfect time to get back to writing about the Mass. Today, I was at the Cathedral downtown, where there was a nice amount of people on hand. (Does sunshine coax more people out of their homes/offices and into church?)
Things are not so sunny for Stephen in today’s first reading. Stephen is preaching the word of Christ and speaking very eloquently, and the elders don’t like it. They bring their grievances to the Sanhedrin.
“This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law. For we have heard him claim that this Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.”
Can we blame them for being upset? They had years and years of living their faith in a certain way, and then Jesus came along to say it was supposed to be different. And then they feel like they can relax because Jesus is no longer around, but then he’s got disciples coming out of the woodwork, talking about Christ and trying to convert people to Christianity.
Things don’t end well for Stephen. In fact, he is considered to be the first martyr of the Church. But it’s also said that Stephen was so filled with the Holy Spirit that he had to go out and talk about Jesus and Christianity. Can you imagine being that filled with the Holy Spirit? I have to ask myself, if I knew it was dangerous would I stand up and proclaim my faith or run as fast as my feet could carry me? I’d like to think the answer would be the former; luckily, I have yet to be put to the test.